Editorial by Dan Hollifield

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Post September 16, 2015, 12:51:41 PM

Editorial by Dan Hollifield

Ya know, this one is so special, I'm gonna "echo copy" it here so it doesn't get missed when the next issue flips! So below is a verbatim copy, and the post after that will be my comments.

Last week my wife asked me a simple question that I couldn't answer. At first I was ashamed that I did not know the answer. Then I was angry because the answer she needed was directly tied to the reason I couldn't answer her question. The fact that I got angry about it also ties into the reason I couldn't answer. And that makes me quite sad. I spend a lot of time pretending that I have completely recovered from the automobile accident we were in back in 2007. But deep down I know that I am not the same man I was that morning when I woke up, several hours before we were rear-ended buy a teen who was driving far too fast to notice that our car was stopped in the road, waiting for oncoming traffic to clear so we could make a left turn. When I woke up the second time that day, in the ambulance, i knew something was wrong with me. Something besides the broken collarbone the seat belt caused. My mind was rather fuzzy. I had suffered a concussion. I have no memory of the accident itself. One minute I was sitting in the car with my foot on the brake and the turn signal on, watching someone dash out of the road we wanted to turn into in an attempt to beat the three cars we were waiting for to proceed past so we could make our turn. I remember thinking "that was dumb thing to do, those cars are too close for me to turn in, I wouldn't run a stop sign to try and get ahead of them..." The very next thing I remember is waking up in the ambulance hearing my wife telling the EMTs that they were NOT going to cut her new pants off of her so they could check her for injuries. I may have laughed out loud at that. But my thoughts were "at least she is all right..."

Lyn had what several CAT scans determined was a very mild whiplash, muscle strains, and a bruise from her seat belt saving her life. I had a broken collarbone, broken glass in the back of my head, minor cuts and bruises, and a serious concussion. It seems that I was directly in front of a bag of canned goods from our grocery shopping when the kid rear ended us. Several of those cans smacked me in the head as they exited our car through the front windshield. Thankfully, Lyn wasn't hit by any of them. An MRI at the emergency room revealed that my brain was swelling up from the impacts. I was concussed, in other words. I spent the next several weeks unable to wear my prescription glasses, because the swelling was so serious that it had compressed my eyeballs back into a shape that was almost normal, resulting in my having 20/20 vision again for the first time in 45 years. Gradually, the swelling went down, and I eventually returned to my accustomed nearsightedness.

But I noticed that I was far more absented-minded. My formerly encyclopedic mind was having trouble forming long-term memories. I noticed more aphasia as well. I would be talking, and had to grope for the next word I wanted to say. Sort of like one of the forms of stuttering, as I am told. The upshot of all the above is that I forget a lot of stuff now. Things I should remember, but simply don't. Stuff just disappears. Like today, I couldn't remember what we did with the paperwork concerning the various doctors and physical therapists we went to right after the accident.

People whom I have met since 2007 never knew the man I was before. So they have no way of knowing that back in the day I could remember far more trivia and important details absorbed over my many long years of life. People I knew well before the accident are aware that I am a bit different nowadays. No doubt the mark down my frequent lapses of memory to "senior moments," or are too polite to come out and say that I'm slightly brain damaged since the wreck.

"But- your stories, your music, the ray guns, stuff we know you did after the accident!" I can hear people thinking that.

Yeah, that's me after the thump on the head. I have to write a lot of stuff down now if I want to remember it later. Not being able to remember every little detail now without making notes doesn't keep me from being creative. It mostly makes editing something I wrote a journey into mystery. "I don't remember writing that!"

Most of the time I pretend I am the same as I ever was. Sometimes I am forced to accept that I am something less than I used to be. As handicaps go, this one isn't anywhere near as bad as those I have seen others cope with on a daily basis. I was lucky, actually. I could have lost so much more than some few of my memories, or ability to lay down new memories easily. I'm alive, Lyn is alive, I can cope with having to use notebooks to remember little details so long as we are still living.

I was lucky. Could have been far worse, really.

And just what does this slice of biography have to do with writing, you may ask.

I have a better understanding of the duties of EMTs at accident scenes, what goes on in Emergency Rooms at hospitals, and what aftercare at a doctor's office is like. As with anything a writer experiences, these real-life details can enhance the reader's experience when they encounter one of your stories. Adding in details a reader can relate to can, if used correctly, bring them closer into the story as they read. It makes the story more real to your readers.

Every bit of a writer's life can wind up being mined for those moments the readers can connect to, can understand implicitly, and which serves to make a story feel more accessible to your readers. It can also be therapeutic, in a way, to work through something that was so difficult to face for yourself, but that your readers might empathize with more easily. You have your own feelings, your own frustrations, your own experiences to draw upon in order to bring a story into vivid life in the mind's eye of your readers. You might be laying your sole bare to them, but working through that trauma by using your fictional characters to convey your personal experiences can, in some small way, help you learn how to cope with your own ghosts. But that is a bonus to using your personal experiences to guide the characters you create for your stories. Something that makes your characters more real to your readers.

If I were to write a story wherein a character has to cope with the death of a loved one, or has to cope with a crippling injury from a traffic accident, or has to learn how to deal with handicaps due to some injury, or has to rediscover who they really are due to brain damage from some horrific injury, or deals with physical therapy after an accident, then my writing would be more vivid and accessible because I actually have lived such a life. I can relate to such a character more intensely, and I hope I could write such a character with more feeling and emotion. These honest emotions can help you write in a way that your readers can connect to more easily.

Now, I am not saying that you have to have a deceased parent, or child, or crippling injury in order to write characters who have been damaged by their lives. But I am saying that if you can cope with the mental anguish of having suffered something yourself, you can bring to your writing a unique perspective that will not only make your writing stronger, but may actually help a reader who has experienced some sort of parallel to your own, personal experiences. Don't be afraid of using your personal life to create characters who undergo any manner of horrible experiences, or joyful experiences as well. Births, deaths, school, work, parties and weddings and funerals, each has equal value in bring your writing into the experience of your readers. Don't be afraid to write something that makes you cry because you know the pain of having it happen in your own life. And don't be afraid of writing about things that brought you joy, as well. We are writers. We have each lived and experienced things that could make gods weep, or shout with happiness and pride. We are human beings. Our readers are human beings as well. We must connect with our readers on all emotional levels.

Make them laugh, make them cry, make them afraid, make them rage against injustice, but above all, make your readers feel! They will understand, and they will look for more of your work.

Now I better shut up and let you get to reading the September issue.


Editor Emeritus

Posts: 2528

Joined: December 31, 1969, 08:00:00 PM

Location: Mass, USA

Post September 16, 2015, 01:18:59 PM

Re: Editorial by Dan Hollifield

This editorial is one of the most important to me, because I am in a related place in life!

I was let go from my signature mid-career job in construction accounting management assistance in 2012.

That was the end of innocence for me. I had a nice cozy small town life I understood and was happy at. So then my professional identity was crushed, and after some family discussion, I moved to New York City because I have some family here. Then, because there were *reasons* I made sure my life was always small town and cozy, having to adapt to the very complex "moving parts" milieu of NYC was a second colossal hurdle!

I have barely recovered, but recovered a little I have. I half-understand two of the boroughs (Queens and Manhattan). I half-understand the trains - double-hops to get to half your destinations, the route you took inbound at 2PM isn't valid at 11PM on the way out, the route switches because of their long term post-Sandy rebuild means that even you think you know a route, any random week you have to find a backup because that route is invalid for a week. I half-understand entirely new systems of health care. I half-understand therapy. I half-understand medication. I half-understand Autism, depression, anger, anxiety, and mood swings.

But neither am I the man I once was circa 2011. I have no mouth, and I must cry. I have seen the darkness visible. There has been much yelling and gnashing of teeth. My performance of roles and contributions here at Aphelion have plummeted. I know many have been concerned about it.

But perhaps the one sliver of an advantage writers have, is that if they can somehow find some mechanisms, including notes, and in my case, some custom-chained anti-disability software, then sometimes parts of our creative abilities remain intact. I am trying to use "lateral thinking" to draw on that to grind myself back into a new life. I have started to return here, among other roles of life, including general effectiveness at simply getting things done. (And the G-T-D concepts are helping!)

And then we can use the power of words to show the world glimpses. And sometimes the "write what you know" part of your work never could before have existed. For a story, you could have faked parts of it to hold a plot together. But it wasn't *knowing*. And done right, that shows through your work for the rest of your life.

So here's to Dan's gutsy editorial, because it does take guts to say stuff isn't just dandy, it's not "okay", and you now have to fake a few other parts of your old life. But then that's why some of the remarks of mystics always said, "sometimes you have to have simply been around long enough for certain depths of life experience to show up". For two of us at least, they have.

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